> Of all the indicators of success in the invisible primary, media exposure is arguably the most important. Media exposure is essential if a candidate is to rise in the polls. Absent a high poll standing, or upward momentum, it’s difficult for a candidate to raise money, win endorsements, or even secure a spot in the pre-primary debates.
Some political scientists offer a different assessment of the invisible primary, arguing that high-level endorsements are the key to early success. That’s been true in some cases, but endorsements tend to be a trailing indicator, the result of a calculated judgment by top party leaders of a candidate’s viability. Other analysts have placed money at the top. Money is clearly important but its real value comes later in the process, when the campaign moves to Super Tuesday and the other multi-state contests where ad buys and field organization become critical.
In the early going, nothing is closer to pure gold than favorable free media exposure. It can boost a candidate’s poll standing and access to money and endorsements. Above all, it bestows credibility. New York Times columnist Russell Baker aptly described the press as the “Great Mentioner.” The nominating campaigns of candidates who are ignored by the media are almost certainly futile, while the campaigns of those who receive close attention get a boost. Ever since 1972, when the nominating process was taken out of the hands of party bosses and given over to the voters in state primaries and caucuses, the press has performed the party’s traditional role of screening potential presidential nominees—deciding which ones are worthy of the voters’ attention. As Theodore H. White wrote in The Making of the President, 1972, “The power of the press is a primordial one. It determines what people will think and talk about—an authority that in other nations is reserved for tyrants, priests, parties, and mandarins.” (Source)